Author: Sherronda J. Brown
Black and Brown women and femmes centering ourselves in our own lives in a world that constantly asks us to center everyone else is not only a form of resistance, but also a form of self-care. A part of that self-care means dating how we want to date – if we want to date at all. More importantly, supporting other Black and Brown women and femmes means accepting how others choose to date, even when or especially when it does not look like how we individually define dating and courtship.
Much of the date-shaming rhetoric encountered in material and virtual spaces is centered around practices that are considered specific to Millennials and is especially – and ironically – technophobic. There have been far too many tweets, statuses, comments, and anti-Millennial articles about how Netflix and Chill is not a “real” date.
One’s own opinion about how dating and courtship should look in one’s own life is valid, but it becomes an invalid opinion if/when it is deployed as a method of shaming someone else’s personal choices. This type of commentary is nothing more than thinly veiled ageism, respectability, and classism in many instances, and it needs to be publicly challenged. Much of this work involves letting go of the gendered expectations and ideas surrounding dating and courtship, which is something that Millennials are doing far more than previous generations.
Traditional ideas about dating firmly place men and masculine presenting individuals in the role of active partners or potential suitors who request, plan, execute, and pay for dates, while women and femmes are passive recipients. These ideas conceptualize dating as something that happens to women and femmes, rather than something that we actively participate in with equal interest and enthusiasm, much like traditional ideas about our sexual encounters. This also highlights that the conversation nearly-always rests on the gender binary, obscuring non-binary, agender, and otherwise genderqueer individuals and their experiences and desires. Heteronormative and cisnormative understandings about romance, relationships, and sex seep into our everyday life and directly impact how we view the world, as well as our experience in it, and it helps to perpetuate patriarchal, paternal, and misogynistic ideologies that contribute to things like rape culture and the infantilization of women and femmes. This is why the history of dating in the US is directly related to the history of gender wage disparities. What is inherent and foundational to these traditions is sexist ideology that makes dating an activity wrought with gendered societal expectations and permissions. And if we are invested in combating sexism in our world, then we also need to take into serious consideration the lens through which we view dating.
Millennials are surrounded by people who are constantly lamenting the fact that many of us do not “woo” each other like our parents did. Most of us don’t go out on “proper” dates. We aren’t met at the door with flowers. We don’t have 7:30pm reservations at fancy restaurants. We don’t wait until the third date to “seal the deal.” We just don’t do anything right, apparently. People seem to think that it is impossible for us to forge valid relationships via Netflix and Chill, that texting is not a valid form of communication, and that getting to know someone on a “proper” date is somehow inherently better and more moral than getting to know someone via texting, social media, and dating apps. And they use this another means to call us lazy, undedicated, lost, and useless.
Advocating for women and femme empowerment means allowing ourselves the space and freedom to do the things that make us feel comfortable, desired, and in control. It means demanding what we want while respecting what others want. It means taking control of how we want to develop and indulge in dating, relationships, and sex in our personal lives and supporting others if they choose a different avenue. It means that we should not be beholden to the respectability politics that tell us that we render ourselves unworthy and undesirable for having a high body count – a constitution that is completely arbitrary and subjectively based on people’s individual belief systems. We do not have to adhere to ageist expectations which demand that continuing the traditions of older generations is the only way to be valid and worthy. Nor are we required to submit to classist and sexist notions that men and masculine folks should drop a certain amount of money on women and femmes in order for dates to be legitimate. And we certainly are not required to perpetuate the heteronormative, patriarchal, and paternal narratives and expectations that contribute to our own subjugation and leave other genders out of the conversation.
Instead, let’s accept, celebrate, and defend the truth that amount of money that someone spends on you does not determine your worth or your significance in their life, the number of people that you consent to sex with has no bearing on your morals, and you are valuable regardless of how you choose to spend time with someone that you enjoy. Repeat, as many times are you need to. Leading a life in which we give ourselves permission to do the things that make us happy is absolutely a form of self-care. We are not obligated to the social conventions of those who came before us.
Dating has evolved, just as it did with each generation before us, but there is a specific kind of hate that Millennials endure from our predecessors that includes denying the huge impact of our student loan debt, the ever-rising cost of living, and not being paid a living wage. Sociopathic Baby Boomers essentially ruined everything, but continue to blame us for our financial strain enabled by the conditions that they created for us to suffer through. And so, we collectively battle emotional and psychological turmoil associated with impoverished living conditions that generations before us did not experience at his magnitude. Simply put: Millennials are over-worked, over-extended, under-paid, and under-served. If we want to sit in cars, listen to music, enjoy conversation, and save money and energy and call it date, then we will. If we want to Snapchat and sext and share memes and call it courting, then we will. If we want to text each other all day long from the moment we wake up until the moment that we fall asleep. If we want to video chat and group message. If we want to meet a different person on OkCupid or Tinder every week. We will. We will take care of ourselves in the ways that we need to, and we do not need anyone’s permission or approval. The widely-accepted shaming of our contemporary dating and relationship choices is simply another part of the ageist and classist gaslighting that we experience. We don’t owe them anything, but we owe ourselves comfort and sincerity and individuality.
Romance is not universal, or necessary. Relationships are not monolithic. Date how you want to date. Whether that means going out to dinner, or watching a movie and relaxing at home, or going on a hike, or meeting a park with your dogs. Court how you want to court. Whether that be buying flowers, writing love letters, or #WCW/#MCM announcements on Instagram (we need a gender-neutral hashtag for this, too). Communicate how you want to communicate. Whether it is talking on the phone for hours, “good morning” and “goodnight” messages, or meme wars. Sex how you want to sex. Whether you decide to wait until the third date or longer, until your wedding night, until twenty minutes into watching an episode of Black Mirror, or not at all. Nobody gets to tell you what is and is not a date, as long as it is agreed upon with the person(s) that you enjoy spending this precious time with. Do what fits your own style, standards, and access. Take care of yourself in whatever way suits you.
Sherronda J. Brown is a native North Carolinian with an academic background in English, Media Studies, Women’s & Gender Studies, and African American & African Diaspora Studies. She primarily writes pop culture and media analysis through a black feminist lens, and is passionate about social justice, black feminisms, and zombies. You can support her work by subscribing to her Patreon or making a one-time donation to her PayPal.